Judge Brett Cullum joins a club in Dallas that features some of the best acting of the year.
Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club!
Desperation makes strange bedfellows of us all. Dallas Buyers Club proves that as we get to see a cowboy team up with a lady boy to fight for what is fair for AIDS patients. Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike) makes his strongest bid for Oscar gold to date, with the whole thing resting on his emaciated scrawny shoulders. The hunky Hollywood "sexiest man alive" lost about fifty pounds to play the lead role. He looks like a walking skeleton. Amazingly he also nails every second of the emotional journey about people trying to find a way through a very dark period of recent American history. It's a movie worth watching for the great acting and the almost forgotten message that AIDS was a major epidemic that created unlikely heroes and a community who demanded better healthcare. It is a hard film to watch, but one that offers immense rewards.
Facts of the Case
Matthew McConaughey stars as the real-life Ron Woodroof, a homophobic rodeo-obsessed electrician who discovers he has contracted HIV and full-blown AIDS. The year is 1985, and the doctors have few recommendations for him, apart from getting his affairs in order and preparing to die in thirty days. He loses all of his friends, and soon finds himself homeless when a fearful landlord changes his locks. Nobody is willing to help or support him. He partners up with a trans woman (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream), who introduces him to other frustrated patients. Together they form the Dallas Buyers Club. It's an organization that collects and distributes supplements and medications not yet approved by the FDA for AIDS patients.
Dallas Buyers Club as a script first appeared in Hollywood in the mid '90s, and it had many people attached to it in development. It was based on a 1992 article that told the tale of Ron Woodroof just as he was passing away, seven years after doctors said he would die. At first Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers) was set to star with Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) directing. Other actors such as Brad Pitt (Fight Club) and Ryan Gosling (Drive) were even approached at various times. Nobody could ever get the funding together, and the film languished in limbo. This production was shot quickly in just under a month with New Orleans standing in for Dallas, and no rehearsal period for the actors at all. It was filmed digitally with a single camera, and on a tight budget. Yet somehow this little indie feature born of budgetary constraints manages to pack a wallop where it counts, and it's hard to turn away from the story once it starts rolling.
There are two performances that make the entire movie work as well as it does, and they deserve most of the credit. McConaughey resembles the real Woodroof so well that when looking at old images, it is hard to tell the difference between archival shots and publicity shoots for this project. He's amazing in both bringing to life the physical spirit of a sick cowboy, but also at playing the pain and confusion that must have plagued the real man. He comes to fight for AIDS patients, and he begins to genuinely care for Leto's transgendered character named Rayon. McConaughey disappears into the role, and there is nary a trace of the Hollywood star left. It is a breathtaking performance. Jared Leto hasn't acted in about five years, but he proves every bit as convincing as Rayon the preoperative trans woman. Rumor has it he stayed in character during all of filming, and lost his own remarkable amount of weight to pull off this role. He is stunning, and disappears too easily matching McConaughey's commitment and ferocity. Together they make the unlikely duo who becomes heroes. Jennifer Garner (Alias) does a fine job as a frustrated doctor, but she gets the far less showy role when compared to the guys.
For the home video market, Dallas Buyers Club (Blu-ray) gets a standard release without many frills. We get a good transfer that makes the most of the limited budget. The transfer has a distinct crispness thanks to the digital shoot, and details are at a good level without much to complain about. Colors are washed to create that nostalgic 1985 world of desperate Dallas, so they can look faded and sepia toned throughout. Sound is the master track which featured no ADR work at all. Music is used sparingly, but the levels are always spot on even in the loud club scenes allowing for a balance of dialogue and effects. Extras are a little slim with only a "making of" featurette that is 3 minutes long and obviously simply an electronic press kit piece. There are three deleted scenes that really should have been in the film proper, so it is nice to see them here. Dallas Buyers Club (Blu-ray) offers a DVD as well as a digital version so that you can have multiple copies on several devices.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Dallas Buyers Club could be criticized for not going far enough into the fear and desperation that was 1985 and the early days of the AIDS crisis. Believe it or not, they downplay a lot of the events and horrors of the era. Much is missing from this tale, and it is hard not to notice some of the shadows not brought to light. The homosexual characters are sidelined apart from Rayon, and many of the gay men and lesbian women who helped Ron in his efforts are minimalized in this version of the story for the sake of dramatic efficiency. It is understandable but creates a skewed vision sometimes. The casting caused criticism as well. Some in the trans community are put off a real trans actor wasn't cast, but I do know Leto's performance was done under the advisement of Calpernia Addams. You can't please everyone, and it seems that the slights should be overcome by the sheer grace of the project.
Dallas Buyers Club is easily one of the best films of 2013 with two of the most amazing performances you're likely to ever see., It was fortunate the film languished throughout the '90s, because then it would have been surrounded by AIDS dramas packing indie houses at that time. Here in 2013, it can be separated, singled out, and appreciated for reminding viewers of a time when life and death seemed to fall at the whims of the FDA. It is the best role ever for Matthew McConaughey who embodies Ron Woodroof in a way no actor ever could. Jared Leto is equally stunning as a beautiful creation who helps out along the way. It is a film that says many important things, and it is definitely worth seeking out. Dallas Buyers Club (Blu-ray) isn't too tricked out, but fans will find it the best possible presentation technically, even though it has few bells and whistles to support it.
Guilty of being a thought-provoking character study about a man who became a reluctant hero.
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